LEWISTON — It could have been a burial scene given the crowd gathered around the grave, cars lining the road, overcast skies and light drizzle starting to fall.
Harry Dixon watched quietly, vigilantly, as eight strapping men — young and old — struggled to right the wrong done to his family's memory over the weekend.
The 87-year-old Lewiston man looked on as players, coaches and volunteers from the Lewiston Maineiacs hockey team used nothing more than straps, elbow grease and heart to lift the large monument marking his grandparent's grave back into place.
"I think it's pretty mean of anybody who would do such a thing. I hope they find them," Dixon said. "They have absolutely no respect for the living or the dead."
Dixon discovered his grandparents' headstone was among the 150 toppled at Lewiston's Riverside Cemetery sometime between Thursday night and Friday morning. The case remains under investigation by the Lewiston Police Department.
Upset over the desecration of his family's memory, Dixon was just leaving the cemetery when the donated bus from Northeast Charter and Tour Co. Inc. of Lewiston pulled up and out came dozens of hockey players. Gloves in hand donated by Marden's and Home Depot, the entire team — from the general manager to the youngest players — arrived eager to give back to the community they call home roughly eight months of the year.
"We think it's awful. We've never seen anything like this," said Sam Finn, 19, a Maineiacs player from Montreal. "The community accepts us here. We want to participate in the community as much as we can to help out."
Fellow Maineiacs player, 18-year-old Jess Tanguay, struggled to find the words to describe the scene the team encountered as they made their way into the 40-acre cemetery. Finally breaking into French, the Montreal man called the vandalism disrespectful to the families of all the people buried in the cemetery.
Bill Skelton, president of the cemetery's Board of Directors, led them down a long, winding road to one of several sections of the Summer Street cemetery affected by the rampage.
Some of the stones were 200 years old and weighed 1,000 pounds or more. Many were completely torn from their bases, including those marked with small American flags as veterans' graves. A few stones had rolled down hills and were found beside the cemetery road.
"You would be hard pressed to find anybody who would not be disturbed. It's hard, whether you have family here or not, not to be moved emotionally about such violence," Skelton said as he choked back tears. "These are really important members of this community. Many were founders of this community."
The cemetery is not insured for such vandalism because plot owners are responsible for graves and markers. Skelton estimates the repairs could cost upward of $50,000.
"When we saw it in the paper, we figured it was just the right thing to do," said Bill Schurman, managing consultant and governor for the team. "It's a matter of understanding and respecting the community that welcomed us with open arms. We tell our players, 'You're not playing for the name on your back. You're playing for the crest on the front.' And that crest represents the Lewiston-Auburn area."
A short time later, as the group geared up to head into the cemetery, they turned and came face to face with Harry Dixon, who turned his car around as soon as he saw the bus pull up. The young men and their mentors followed the elderly man to his family's gravestone and worked for more than 20 minutes to lift the stone upright.
"I think it was great what they did," Dixon said, thanking the young men again and again. "I happened to be the lucky one. They showed up just as I was leaving."